Review: ‘Reservation Dogs‘ a Darkly Funny Coming-of-Age Tale

Reservation Dogs on FX on Hulu
'Reservation Dogs' on FX on Hulu (Image credit: Shane Brown/FX)

Reservation Dogs is a dark comedy set on a reservation in rural Oklahoma. Four Native-American teens are desperate to relocate to a magical land known as California, and embark on small-time crime to fund their voyage. 

Bear, Elora, Willie Jack and Cheese are the teens, two boys and two girls. The series starts with a bang, the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” cranking from a radio as the four eye a snack truck they intend to steal. The Reservation Dogs are also battling a rival gang intent on winning the profits from local crimes

D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Devery Jacobs, Paulina Alexis and Lane Factor play the teens. Woon-A-Tai’s character Bear, with long hair and a contemplative nature, is compelling as the gang’s self-proclaimed leader. 

A fifth member of their gang died before the series takes place. In a nod to the Tarantino film that gives the series its name, the foursome don black suits to commemorate their lost friend.

The second episode is set at a reservation health clinic and will ensure the viewer never again complains about their own substandard experience at the doctor’s office. 

Zahn McClarnon, who Fargo fans will remember as Gerhardt family enforcer Hanzee, plays an inept reservation police officer. 

Reservation Dogs offers an intriguing look at life on the reservation. It’s a bleak landscape, with cracked pavement, rusting industrial gear and meth-heads mixed in with the decent citizens. Bright spots are hard to come by. 

Filmed in Oklahoma, the show is executive produced by Sterlin Harjo (who tapped his experiences growing up as a Native American in the state), Taika Waititi and Garrett Basch. Reservation Dogs is a unique, impactful and darkly funny series that depicts the desperation, and occasional glimmers of hope, experienced by teens on the reservation. Full of style, it offers captivating characters who at times leap off the gritty terrain. 

Reservation Dogs started Aug. 9 and is now streaming on FX on Hulu. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.